Mrs. Haldane writes a swift, effortless prose that conceals as much as it reveals about Tzu Hsi, the woman who ruled China from 1853 to 1908--conceals in that she does not hesitate to employ surmise, to affix attributes. It is a fascinating story of ambition and intrigue. Born in 1835, Tzu Hsi came to the Forbidden City as a minor concubine of Hsien Feng, bore him a son (or was it her former fiancee and later possible lover's child?) and rose to power, ultimately as Empress Dowager, having dispatched the Emperor, the Empress Consort, her long-time enemy, possibly her own son, among others. Characterized as a woman of great intelligence and will power and boundless ambition, possibly sex-starved and sublimating in lethal acts, she gained a reputation among the Americans and British as a supreme statesman. She had an Apochryphal vision of the Boxers as saviors of China, shared in a different sense by diplomat Sir Robert Hart, who saw them as precursors of the ""yellow peril"" imminent today. This novelistic treatment goes down easily; whether it will sit well with scholars is something else again.